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Famous Swiss Mathematicians

Famous Swiss Mathematicians

Switzerland has long been heralded for its investment and support of academia and scientific progress. As such, it comes as little surprise that it was – and continues to be – home to some of the greatest mathematicians in the world.

However, which Swiss mathematicians truly left their mark on the world? Well, here is a list of the most famous academics in the country along with their contributions:

1.      Jakob Bernoulli

  • Lived: 1655 – 1705
  • Main Contribution: Bernoulli law of large numbers in probability theory

The Bernoulli family is well known for their mathematical contributions, but Jakob was the first to broach the field of mathematics. Born to a pharmacist father, Jakob was supposed to follow a career in theology, but became interested in mathematics instead.

After many years of study and correspondence with famous mathematicians around the world, Jakob began to make his own contribution to the field. He was the first mathematician to begin using the term “integral” when analyzing the curve of descent. His research into catenary paved the way for the building of suspension bridges.

Jakob’s greatest impact, however, was the so-called Bernoulli numbers. It was a concept that he broached in his work Ars Conjectandi, in which he described the law of large numbers in probability theory. He also published works on the parallels of logic and algebra, complete with algebraic renderings of categorical statements.

2.      Johann Bernoulli

  • Lived: 1667 – 1748
  • Main Contribution: Development of infinitesimal calculus

As with his older brother, Johann’s father had other aspirations for his son. He was meant to study medicine but followed in his brother’s footsteps and pursued a career in calculus. In many ways, Johann actually surpassed Jakob’s contributions to mathematics.

When Johann first began studying mathematics, calculus was a relatively new and undiscovered subject. He applied calculus to determine the lengths and areas of curves, helping greatly with the construction of the modern clock. His research and calculations also aided in the mathematics of ship sails, optics, and the theory of differential equations.

One of his most notable contributions was his creation of a method for resolving problems involving limits that would be expressed by the ratio of zero to zero. This methodology went on to be published in a notable textbook known as Analysis of the Infinitely Small, for the Understanding of Curves.

3.      Daniel Bernoulli

  • Lived: 1700 – 1782
  • Main Contribution: Bernoulli Theorem

Daniel was the second son of Johann, who schooled his son in his field. He began to earn his reputation as a learned mathematician shortly after graduating from university. His work on differential equations and the physics of flowing water garnered him a position at the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg in Russia.

Daniel’s contributions included research into probability theory as well as properties of rotating and vibrating bodies. Bernoulli really came into his own as a mathematician with the concept of Hydrodynamica, however. This involved the properties of basic importance in fluid flow. There was a special focus on pressure, density, and velocity and their relationship to each other.

The mathematician broached the concept that the pressure in a fluid decreases as the velocity increases. This went on to be known as Bernoulli’s Principle. Daniel also made the significant contribution of establishing the basis of kinetic energy of gases and heat.

In addition to this, Bernoulli’s work also had an impact on probability, gravity, tides, ocean currents, behavior of ships at sea, magnetism, and astronomy.

4.      Nikolaus I Bernoulli

  • Lived: 1687 – 1759
  • Main Contribution: St. Petersburg Paradox

As the nephew of Jakob and Johann Bernoulli, Nikolaus was introduced to the field of mathematics at an early age. In fact, his uncle Jakob supervised his Master’s Degree. Nikolaus received his doctorate for a dissertation he wrote on the application of probability to certain legal issues.

Despite being a talented mathematician, Nikolaus lacked the drive that his other family members had. As a result, most of his work was derived from letters and correspondence he shared with other mathematicians.

It was in one of these letters that Nikolaus formulated the St. Petersburg Paradox, which is a problem related to probability. In other correspondences he discussed convergence and created formulations showing that  that (1+x)^{n}(1+x)n diverges for x > 0x>0.

Other independent endeavors included differential equations by the construction of orthogonal trajectories to families of curve. Nikolaus was also involved with the publication of Jakob Bernoulli’s Ars conjectandi and aided with the editing and supplementation of his Jakob’s complete works.

5.      Nicolas Fatio de Duillier

  • Lived: 1664 – 1753
  • Main Contribution: Zodiacal Light Problem

When most people think of de Duillier, it is automatically linked to Isaac Newton. The two scientists did collaborate quite a bit and it was a well-known fact that Nicolas was one of Newton’s closest friends. Despite this, de Duillier is known in academic circles for mathematical success of his own.

When it comes independent contributions, he is most closely associated with his work with Giovanni Domenico Cassini on the proper explanation of zodiacal light, an astronomical phenomenon. de Duillier also worked on the push or shadow theory of gravitation.

Apart from this, de Duillier was known for the invention and development of the first method of fabricating jewel bearings for mechanical watches and clocks.

6.      Leonhard Euler

  • Lived: 1707 – 1783
  • Main Contribution: Mathematical Notations and Terminology

Euler is considered to be one of the founders of pure mathematics. He is known for his contribution to subjects of calculus, geometry, number theory, and mechanics. Leonhard was also instrumental in proving the applications of mathematics in both technology as well as public affairs.

He further perfected various elements of integral calculus and developed the theory of trigonometric and logarithmic functions. What Euler was especially hailed for, though, was simplifying analytical operations. He also modified and improved nearly all areas of pure mathematics.

7.      Johann Heinrich Lambert

  • Lived: 1728 – 1777
  • Main Contribution: Irrationality of π

Lambert had humble beginnings and largely educated himself. His interest in the geometric and astronomical field was reinforced by the instruments that he designed and created. What he is known most for, however, is the work he did to demonstrate that π is irrational.

At the same time, Lambert was responsible for the first systematic development of hyperbolic functions. He is well known for his research of heat and light and lambert, the measurement of light intensity, is named for him.

8.      Paul Bernays

  • Lived: 1888 – 1977
  • Main Contribution: Axiomatic Set Theory and Philosophy of Mathematics

In the early portion of his career, Bernays was largely known for his collaboration with David Hilbert. His main goal with Hilbert was to formalize the study of mathematics. His work with set theory and attempting to streamline the Zermelo-Fraenkel system led to the publication of the Axiomatic Set Theory.

Bernays main focus was on simplifying and refining the work on logic and set theory. These alterations provided a platform for other logicians such as Kurt Gödel. These additional technical modifications resulted in what is now known as von Neumann-Bernays-Gödel set theory.

9.      Eduard Stiefel

  • Lived: 1909 – 1978
  • Main Contribution: Construction of Electronic Calculation Machine

Although Stiefel got his start in geometry and geometrical mappings, he changed course later on his career. In doing so, he helped build the Institute of Applied Mathematics with the primary goal of studying the mathematical implications of computers.

In particular, Stiefel was known for sending research assistants to gather information and design ideas to build their own electronic calculation machines. He found the current designs lacking and eventually helped to design a machine that was powerful enough to boost the entire field forward.

10. Ernst Specker

  • Lived: 1920 – 2011
  • Main Contribution: Kochen-Specker Theorem

Specker battled illness and debilitating physical issues in his youth all while completing an education in mathematics. He had the fortune to attend seminars and lectures by some of the most influential Swiss mathematicians, influencing his own work in the process.

Although Specker’s publications are limited, they are quite varied. He made contributions to algebraic topology, set theory, models of mathematics, recursion theory, foundations of quantum mathematics, finite and infinite combinatorics, and more. His crowning glory was the Kochen-Specker Theorem that helped to prove that some hidden variable theories are impossible.

These are the most famous and influential Swiss mathematicians to date. As you can see, they changed the field of mathematics quite drastically. The contributions that they made to the field continue to boost progress even in the modern world.